Monday, October 31, 2011

Steelers held up Pats' O by defending Welker

The Pittsburgh Steelers did almost everything right against the New England Patriots Sunday at Heinz Field. Black and Yellow moved the ball on offense, grimly challenged the Patriots while on defense and were effective on special teams. Sure, the Pats were outplayed, but they were also outcoached. The result was a dominating 25-17 Steelers’ win.

The biggest key to grounding the Patriots, though, may have been Pittsburgh’s ability to make Wes Welker disappear.

The Patriots' slot receiver, who has put up monster numbers throughout the first half of the season, was virtually a non-factor in a game. And these are the types of games Welker is most needed. When little is working for the Patriots, Welker is often a key to production.

Heading into the Steelers game, Welker had 51 catches for just fewer than 800 yards. His efficiency has not been debatable as he’s on pace for another record-breaking season. But against Dick LeBeau’s Steeler defense, Welker had six catches for 39 yards and no touchdowns. And the Steelers are certainly patting Ike Taylor on the back for that.

Taylor, who was responsible for Welker the majority of the game in man-to-man coverage, stuck to him like glue when Pittsburgh was defending the Brady Bunch.

“I think they played more (man coverage) than they’ve shown all year,” Brady told the media after the game. “The way you beat man (coverage) is to make plays against it and get (them) out of it. We didn’t do enough of it.”

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Sunday, October 30, 2011

Bills regain lead of division with victory

A 23-0 victory over the Washington Redskins Sunday coupled with a New England Patriots loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers has the Buffalo Bills in their second stint atop the AFC East standings this season.

Buffalo (5-2) holds the tiebreaker – for now – over New England (5-2), thanks to a defeat of the Patriots Week 3. The Bills won coming off a bye after losing two of their prior three games. Buffalo started the season 3-0.

The regained lead of the division makes the Bills’ Week 9 game even more intriguing, as Buffalo will host the rival New York Jets (4-3), who are coming off a bye of their own.

That game will set the stage for a second half of AFC East action that sees the Jets and Bills face division opponents in three of their next four games. Each team will face one another twice while the Jets take on the Patriots and the Bills face the Miami Dolphins once in that span.

The Dolphins dropped to 0-7 Sunday in another fall-from-ahead defeat to the New York Giants.

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Pats struggle on 3rd down in loss to Steelers

The New England Patriots, led by quarterback Tom Brady, have had one of the best third-down offenses in the league this season.

But not Sunday. The Patriots were just 30 percent in third-down efficiency in a 25-17 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field.

New England (5-2), which normally is above 50 percent on third down, was 3-for-10 in that category against the Steelers, thanks mostly to the Pittsburgh defense putting the Patriots in third-and-long situations.

The Patriots had eight or more yards to go on half of their third-down attempts and had more than 10 yards to move the chains on three third-down plays.

The Steelers (6-2) and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, on the other hand, went 10-for-16 on third down.

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Saturday, October 29, 2011

Bills set to move forward without Merriman

Four years ago, losing a player like Shawne Merriman to injured reserve would have been a bombshell to a defense. But after years of a plaguing Achilles injury that has certainly shown in his intermittent stints on the field, Buffalo's loss of Merriman will be more of a unitary shift than a disruption.

“He had not been playing up to what any of us thought, him included,” Bills coach Chan Gailey told the media Wednesday. “We all felt it was in the best interest to let him try to get this thing completely well and we’ll just plug in some other guys and see if they can go do it.”

Gailey named Spencer Johnson, Danny Batten, Arthur Moats and Antonio Coleman as possible fill-ins for Merriman's spot, though he noted Coleman wouldn't be in this week against the Redskins in Toronto. What the Bills will ask of Merriman now is to provide his replacement(s) with insight into his career success on the pass rush and to provide a strong locker room presence.

“We’d love to have him back, he’s definitely a force and a great guy to have in the locker room, but unfortunately he’s got to fix the body and we’ll wait for him next year,” linebacker Nick Barnett said this past week. “... (He) gets guys out there pumped up pregame and everything...”

Buffalo's pass rush, still dead last in the league in sacks, may have some success in Toronto, as Washington is still trying to get its feet back on the ground after their Week 6 quarterback switch. John Beck has been efficient the last two games, averaging around a quarterback rating of 80, but he was sacked three times last week against Carolina and threw a pick in the loss.

“We definitely have some schematic things, we definitely got to get to the passer, that’s a must so we’re going to work on that and get that fixed,” Barnett said. “If we can continue to take away the ball, get some pass rush, and stop the big plays I think you’ll see our defense statistically move up real fast.”

When healthy, Thomas a plus for Dolphins

Rookie running back Daniel Thomas has been a bright spot in the Miami Dolphins’ dismal start to the season. If Miami could keep him on the field, he would be even brighter.

Thomas has played in four of the Dolphins’ six games, leads the team in rushing with 302 yards and leads all NFL rookies in rushing yards per game with 75.5.

However, the first-year player out of Kansas State has been dealing with a nagging hamstring injury that forced him to miss the season-opener against New England and a Week 4 matchup with San Diego. He didn't make the trip to New York Saturday, so he'll miss another one Sunday,

“He’s handling it as well as any young guy can handle it,” Dolphins coach Tony Sparano told the media Friday. “Somebody asked me if I was frustrated the other day. Well, I’m not frustrated because of the reward you get when he plays. When this guy plays, he plays at a pretty high level and he makes a bunch of yards.

“…the frustrating part is probably more for Daniel. I think he gets frustrated. He’s making progress, he sees progress and then maybe there’s another snag. This is a guy who really was never hurt in college. This guy just played and played and played and got the ball handed to him.”

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Marshall prepped for Giants' man-to-man

The New York Giants have been middle-of-the-pack in pass defense, but because their front-seven is so good at getting to the quarterback (T-1st with 21 sacks), their corners and safeties are able to play a little more aggressively.

New York’s top two tacklers are both in the secondary – free safety Antrel Rolle and strong safety Kenny Phillips.

“They have some good guys back there,” Dolphins receiver Brandon Marshall told the media Friday. “They play with a swagger. They’re a physical team. They got some guys that can do some special things back there so it’s going to be a challenge.”

“I like the matchup. They play man-to-man so it should be an exciting game.”

The Giants rank 15th in the league against the pass, giving up 245.8 yards a game through the air. Aaron Ross leads New York in interceptions with three, and Corey Webster had two picks two weeks ago against the Bills.

Marshall has made 34 receptions for 483 yards so far this season, and he only has one touchdown.

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Steelers provide tough test for Pats' D

Statistically, New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady has fared just fine against the Pittsburgh Steelers, regardless of what stadium the game is played in.

And, as we all know, he has a habit of doing that against most opponents.

But a big question mark heading into Sunday’s 4:15 p.m. game at Heinz Field — and throughout the first half of the season — is the Patriots’ defensive unit. There’s undoubtedly a tough task awaiting in Pittsburgh, namely escape-artist quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who repeatedly finds his way out of would-be sacks and high-pressure situations behind the line of scrimmage and turns them into high-production plays, and his growing arsenal of weapons around him.

In addition to veteran receiver and leader Hines Ward (who is listed as questionable with an ankle injury) and lethal running back Rashard Mendenhall, receivers Mike Wallace, Antonio Brown and Emanuel Sanders have emerged as offensive forces that cannot be overlooked.

Wallace being a factor is hardly news. In his third season, he has become the go-to guy for Roethlisberger and is on pace to top his 1,200-plus-yard season from last year. He also has five touchdowns this year after racking up 10 last season.

Brown, the Steelers' kick returner, has yet to find the end zone this season, but it’s on the verge of happening. He’s coming off his best game to date — seven catches for 102 yards last week vs. the Arizona Cardinals — and a big game against the Patriots is just what his team needs from him.

Sanders, who scored last week for the second time this season, is also a legitimate threat as a third receiver.

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Fitzpatrick gets paid, now Bills' franchise QB

It may have taken 15 years and nine player departures, but the Bills have finally made their choice on a franchise quarterback. Ryan Fitzpatrick has accomplished what only one other quarterback has since Jim Kelly, signing a six-year extension worth nearly $60 million.

“I’m excited about Ryan getting this done,” general manager Buddy Nix told reporters Friday. “He’ll be our quarterback for a long time.”

Before Fitz’s deal, Doug Flutie’s extension was the only quarterback re-signing since the mid-90s.

“It’s been a long road,” Fitzpatrick told the Buffalo media. “There’s been a lot of hurdles and obstacles that I’ve had to overcome. I think we’ve got this thing headed in the right direction. So to be a part of that, and to be able to continue to be a part of that for years to come, I’m really excited about it.”

Buffalo’s struggles behind center have been a black eye on the franchise for quite some time. The Bills have struggled year after year to find someone who can not only start all 16 games, but win games. From Flutie to Drew Bledsoe, J.P. Losman to Trent Edwards, Nix finally feels he’s found that missing piece of the puzzle.

“It really makes everything easier for us. It’s easy to put good players around him if you’ve got that position that you feel good about. And we do.”

Fitzpatrick’s extension couldn’t have been a tough sell for the guys upstairs. He’s fourth in the league in completion rating, fifth in touchdowns seventh in quarterback rating. And as everyone likes to point out, graduating from Harvard doesn’t hurt. You know, the “smart” thing.

“It’s kind of all falling in place here with the coach that I have now, the guys that I’m playing with,” Fitzpatrick said. “I’m obviously extremely happy about today. I’ve been a quarterback my whole life, and that’s what it’s been for me my whole life. I welcome the challenge.”

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Friday, October 28, 2011

Redskins' Haslett: Jackson can do everything

While the Washington Redskins will be up against the best AFC running back in terms of yards per game Sunday in Toronto, they’ll also be facing a guy who, according to Redskins defensive coordinator Jim Haslett, “can do everything.”

“He’s really, really good in protection,” Haslett told the Washington media Thursday regarding Bills running back Fred Jackson. “He stones people. And he can go out and play wideout. He looks like a wideout. He can run routes, good catching the ball.”

Jackson, who is averaging 100.2 yards a carry, has made 24 receptions for 279 yards. His impact in the passing game has also helped keep quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick’s jersey clean, as he’s been solid in picking up blocks on passing plays that require Fitzpatrick a little more time in addition to being one of the better checkdown outlets in the league.

The Redskins have given up 117.5 yards a game on the ground this season.

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Bills' offensive scheme trumps its personnel

The Buffalo Bills’ offense has been successful through the air despite a carousel at the wide receiver position.

Why? It’s a scheme thing. And that’s not a dig at the Bills’ personnel. The fact that the Bills can run a sort of plug-and-play system means they’re not dependent on a single “skill position” player in the passing game.

“I know Chan’s creative,” Washington Redskins defensive coordinator Jim Haslett told the Washington media Thursday. “… I think they do a great job utilizing their personnel in trying to get – they spread the field – and try to get you one-on-one in a mismatch.”

Buffalo, which will face the Redskins Sunday in Toronto, has also allowed only six sacks on quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick. And while the offensive line has done a good job despite some shifting around due to injury, they’re not asked to hold their blocks for too long because of Buffalo’s quick-strike system.

“More of it’s the scheme and what they’re doing,” Haslett said. “He gets the ball out of his hands fast.”

The Redskins, with a defense that is tied for first in the league in sacks (21), will look to disrupt Fitzpatrick and the passing attack, though they’ll have to get to him quick.

Haslett also said Fitzpatrick was "smart" -- multiple times, in fact. But that's to be expected, as it's in the Talking-About-Ryan-Fitzpatrick Handbook.

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Thursday, October 27, 2011

Phins to face fully-(re)loaded NYG pass rush

The bye week meant rest and recuperation for the New York Giants’ banged-up defense, and the winless Miami Dolphins now get the luxury of facing the league's sack-leading squad (tied with Washington Redskins and Minnesota Vikings at 21) with all the familiar faces back on the field.

“They have all of them back,” Miami coach Tony Sparano told the media Wednesday. “That group is really an active group, good pass rushers. Not sure how they’re going to use them with all of them right now.”

Among the returners for the G-Men's pass-rushing squad is defensive end Justin Tuck, who missed three games with neck and groin issues. Jason Pierre-Paul has been impressive in his absence, grabbing two sacks in the last three games, giving him 7.5 for the year thus far.

The bye week also allowed fellow defensive end Osi Umenyiora to rest his ailing knee, and with linebackers Michael Boley and Mathias Kiwanuka both slated to start, expect to see a plethora of blitz packages from the rejuvenated squad.

“They cause a lot of problems with just those guys so we need to be sharp up front,” Miami quarterback Matt Moore said Wednesday. “And they obviously have the ability to add guys on whether it’s linebackers and secondary players. Just to add more pressure. So need to be sharp in the protection part of the scheme this week.”

Moore has been sacked 11 times in the three games he's played this year, and the Dolphins’ offensive line is third-worst in the league in sacks allowed, giving up 22 so far. Moore has been sacked nearly 12 percent of the time he drops back. And for a team that holds a mere 24 percent third-down conversion rating, things could get ugly quick.

“Third down they (Giants) have a big pass rush,” center Mike Pouncey told the media Wednesday. “We have to lock in (Thursday) on our third-down day and get fully prepared for this game.”

Patriots QB Brady may or may not like ketchup, but he certainly loves Heinz

Throughout his career, Tom Brady has had little trouble taking care of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The New England Patriots quarterback, who heads into Sunday’s game against the Steelers as the leading AFC passer (despite a bye week last week), will be expected to do work against the Steelers again this weekend, when the Pats head to Heinz Field for a 4:15 p.m. showdown in Pittsburgh.

Both squads are familiar with one another and know what is at stake. For the Steelers, after a slow start to the season that has picked up steadily and gained plenty of momentum in the process, beating the Patriots would solidify them as one of — if not the — top team in the AFC. For the Patriots, a chance to come into Heinz Field for a second straight year and take care of Pittsburgh means, not just boosting morale, but a better chance at home-field advantage in the postseason.

Last year, in a much-hyped, Sunday-night game, the Patriots traveled into Pittsburgh and handled the Steelers, 39-26, much to the credit of Brady’s play. Then an 11-year pro, Brady was 30-for-43 with 350 yards, three TDs and no INTs. He also avoided being sacked even once by a vicious defense.

“They lead the league in defense every year,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick told the media Wednesday.

But that’s just what Brady does at Heinz. No other visiting quarterback plays as well as Brady does there, and the key is his consistency. He’s only lost there once -- in 2004 on Halloween, when Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was a rookie. The Steelers gave the Patriots their first loss of the season in that game before eventually losing to the Pats in the AFC title game.

“It was a tough day for us,” Brady recalled Wednesday in a conference call with the media. “That was a rough day. They were going crazy; the towels were waving and the fans were really into it. It’s a great stadium. It’s very loud. It’s a very imposing stadium.”

He won’t ever forget that game. Brady seemed inexperienced and startled, tossing two interceptions and losing a fumble. It’s no surprise the Pats lost with a performance like that from Brady, but it’s rare, too. He’s done nothing but win since. And he’s looking to keep that streak in order this weekend.

The Pats are 2.5-point favorites.

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Toronto 'part of deal', Bills 'just roll with it'

The 2011 version of the Buffalo Bills’ annual “home game” in Toronto will take place Sunday against the Washington Redskins, and not every Bill is necessarily thrilled about playing at Rogers Centre.

And why would they be? Buffalo hasn’t won a game there since the “Toronto Series” began in 2008.

Not only does the game north of the border take Buffalo out of the always-ambitious Ralph Wilson Stadium for a Sunday, but it serves as more of a neutral site than an away-from-home home game.

“The fan support in Toronto is night and day difference than what we have in Buffalo, for the most part it’s a show,” safety George Wilson told reporters Wednesday. “You see just as many jerseys for the opposing teams as you do for the Bills. They cheer for any big play regardless whichever team makes it so we have to do a great job of making sure we’re the ones making these big plays so they’re cheering for us as opposed to the Redskins.”

Coming off their bye week, the Bills are 3-0 at home this season.

“We really enjoy playing here (Ralph Wilson Stadium) and there is a huge advantage to playing here with the noise, with the crowd, with the momentum that we get and it definitely doesn’t carry over as much when we go to Toronto,” Fitzpatrick said. “... It’s part of the deal, it’s part of what we have to do every year. We just roll with it.”

Buffalo lost to the Miami Dolphins, New York Jets and Chicago Bears in Toronto in 2008, 2009 and 2010, respectively.

The Toronto Series runs through 2012.

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Big Ben prepares for Patriots' multi-look D

The New England Patriots are ranked last in total defense this season, giving up 423.3 yards per game, though they’ve made up for it with timely stops and opportunistic plays – and having a premier offense on the other side of the ball.

Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, whose team hosts the Patriots (5-1) Sunday, isn’t taking New England’s defense lightly. He explained that the variety of looks it gives provides a challenge.

“They switch from a 3-4 front to a 4-3 a lot to even a 3-3, so they mix it up on you,” Roethlisberger told the New England media Wednesday via conference call. “And then I think if you get into certain passing situations, they like to bring their linebackers from the outside. To me it’s about identifying and being able pick up those blitzes, because if you can’t, then you're not going to be able to get the ball off.”

“And also, when you put the big guy (Vince Wilfork) in the middle - he never seems to leave the field - but he makes plays in the run game, and you wouldn’t think, but in the passing game as well now.”

The Steelers (5-2) are ninth in total offense, averaging 383.3 yards per game and will be the third-highest ranked offense the Patriots have faced.

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Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Dolphins have worst 3rd-down offense in NFL

31 teams in the NFL convert on third downs at least once every four tries.

The other team? Your Miami Dolphins.

Miami (0-6) is converting third downs into a new set at a 24-percent rate. For some perspective, the second-worst team in the league, the Detroit Lions, are at 28 percent. The New Orleans Saints currently have the No. 1 third-down offense, as they move the chains 58 percent of the time.

During his Wednesday press conference, Dolphins quarterback Matt Moore was asked what the team could do to be more efficient on third down.

“Make the plays,” Moore said, jokingly. “Not the answer you wanted, I know.”

Sounds like Miami has it all figured out.

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Levitre: 'More space to cover' playing tackle

Buffalo Bills left guard Andy Levitre is working at left tackle this week in practice in preparation for his expected start on the exterior, filling in for injured tackle Demetrius Bell.

“More space to cover,” Levitre told the Buffalo media Wednesday of his moving to tackle from guard. “You have to be a little more patient. At guard, you get on guys right now. Tackle you have to be a little more patient and guys have a lot more ground to cover – lot more space to work in between so there’s some difference there.”

Levitre finished the Bills’ last game, a Week 6 loss to the New York Giants, at left tackle and started at tackle every game during his junior and senior years at Oregon State.

“It’s football, so it’s not like I’ve never played football before and I have some experience,” Levitre said. “I’ve been at that position in the past. It’s obviously a little different in college, the talent level goes way up so I definitely have my work cut out for me this week.”

With Levitre at tackle, Chad Rinehart will start at guard.

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Giants' Coughlin talks Dolphins' pass rush

The Miami Dolphins have 14 sacks on defense this season, which isn’t a lot – except that half of those sacks came Sunday against Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow.

The Dolphins still seek their first win this weekend when they travel to New York to face the Giants.

“They were successful in getting there for any number of reasons,” Giants coach Tom Coughlin told the media Wednesday regarding Miami's defensive showing Sunday. “Of course it’s a first time start for a young quarterback. You know they’re coming. That’s just the nature of the game.”

Coughlin also elaborated on where – and whom – Miami generates its pressure from.

“(Cameron) Wake is a good pass rusher with five sacks,” he said. “Of course (Jason) Taylor historically is physical. (Karlos) Dansby is physical at the mike backer. Their safeties – (Yeremiah) Bell coming out of the secondary, he is a very physical player. They’ll look to get (Reshad) Jones back and have two physical players in that safety spot.”

The Giants have been so-so in pass protection this season, giving up 14 sacks in seven games.

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Steelers look to prevent Gronk from repeat

Mike Tomlin knows what the New England Patriots have at tight end – specifically in second-year Patriot Rob Gronkowski.

That’s because Gronkowski torched Tomlin’s Pittsburgh Steelers last year for three touchdowns.

The Steelers (5-2) will certainly be looking to contain Gronkowski this time around, though they know there is plenty of attention to be given all over the field when the Patriots (5-1) are on offense.

Pittsburgh will host New England Sunday at 4:15 p.m.

“Their tight end crew is of course outstanding,” Tomlin told the Pittsburgh media Tuesday, adding that Gronkowski and fellow second-year tight end Aaron Hernandez “continue to emerge.”

“What they did last year is well-documented but I think they’re taken off where they left of, and even moving forwards in some areas.”

Gronkowski has five touchdown receptions this season.

“Tom (Brady) I’m sure feels very comfortable throwing to that big target down there in those close spaces,” Tomlin said.

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Greene a different player with 20+ attempts

Shonn Greene just needs to be fed the ball more.

The New York Jets’ starting running back had an incredibly underwhelming start to the season. In the first four weeks, the most yards he gained in a game was 59, and the most rushing attempt he had were 16.

In the four-game span, he was averaging just under three yards a carry.

But the Jets finally decided to start upping his rushing attempts in Week 5, and he’s been a new player ever since. Greene has had at least 20 rushing attempts in each of the past three games and averaged 4.4 yards a carry in that span.

He finally eclipsed the century mark on the ground last week, gaining 112 yards on 20 carries against the San Diego Chargers.

Greene rushed for a season-high seven first downs in that game, and he picked up 15 total in the last three games. Greene only moved the chains on the ground five times the first four games.

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Tuesday, October 25, 2011

AFC East's 4 gimme Pro Bowl selections

The 2012 NFL Pro Bowl voting polls are open, and through the first third of the season, four AFC East players should be shoe-ins on the AFC roster:

1. WR Wes Welker, New England Patriots - Welker is having an insane season for a slot receiver. He already has 51 receptions through six games, amassing 130.8 yards per game.

2. RB Fred Jackson, Buffalo Bills - Jackson's 100.2 rushing yards a game is good for second in the NFL, and his six touchdowns through six games is already the most he's had in a season. Jackson has also picked up 279 yards receiving.

3. QB Tom Brady, New England Patriots - This one is a given. Brady's 360.5 passing yards a game leads the NFL, and his 16 touchdowns are four more than any other quarterback in the AFC.

4. CB Darrelle Revis, New York Jets - The best cornerback in the NFL and arguably the best defensive player in the league will probably be almost every voter's first selection at the position. He's locking down anyone and everyone, as usual, and has three interceptions in the last two games (four total).

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Phins' Bush continues to have limited role

Miami Dolphins coach Tony Sparano said after the team’s loss to the New York Jets last week that he was beginning to see running back Reggie Bush’s role in the Dolphins’ offense.

Unless that role is to not have much of a role, then who knows what he meant.

Bush has been limited to 13 or fewer rushing attempts per game this season despite Sparano insisting that Bush was the team’s No. 1 back earlier in the year. He did have 71 yards against the Jets, but that number was inflated by a 36-yard run. Bush has yet to find the end zone on the ground.

Bush had nine receptions for 56 yards and a score Week 1 against the New England Patriots, so it looked like he would at least have a role in the passing game, yet he’s only caught eight balls since that game.

Rookie Daniel Thomas has carried the bulk of the load in the backfield for Miami and is averaging nearly 19 attempts per game.

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Bills' first-round bust Maybin a gem for Jets

Aaron Maybin was a first-round draft bust for the Buffalo Bills. He’s a free-agent gem for the New York Jets.

The Bills waived Maybin in August after an underwhelming start to his NFL career. The All-American collegiate linebacker from Penn State was selected 11th overall by the Bills in the 2009 draft. Maybin recorded only 24 tackles in 27 games for the Bills.

New York signed Maybin in August, waived him early in September and re-signed him later in September.

Since then, he has three sacks in four games – all three of which forced the ball out of opposing quarterbacks’ hands.

“Great production. We need to get him on the field more,” Ryan told the media Monday when asked about Maybin. “There have been 40-some snaps he’s been out there and he’s had three sacks and three caused fumbles, made a lot of tackles. The Mayhem thing, I love that deal because it fits him. You guys talk to him, you know what I’m talking about [laughter]. He’s beautiful.”

So far, Maybin strip-sacked Baltimore Ravens' Joe Flacco, Miami Dolphins' Matt Moore and San Diego Chargers' Phillip Rivers -- the last two in consecutive games.

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Best and worst of Buffalo Bills before bye

The Bills have done a lot of things right to position themselves in second place in the division at 4-2. But nobody’s perfect. So as Buffalo rested up during its bye week and took a look at the positives and negatives in its play thus far, we did same.

The Best

Rushing: Most offenses need a strong running game to survive, and when you have the league’s second best rusher, that always helps. Fred Jackson is averaging just over 100 yards per game thus far at nearly six yards per clip. More impressively, Jackson has come out of the backfield as a receiver for the Bills when called upon and produced, amassing more than 275 yards. Buffalo’s rushing touchdowns (8) are also second best in the league, while ball carriers have only put the ball on the ground once so far.

Offensive line: You can’t be an elite rushing team without a strong offensive line, and Buffalo’s line has been one of the most surprising in the league this year. Many were skeptical of the corps coming into the season (us included), saying the squad lacked leadership and experience. Aside from doing its part to help Jackson’s cause on the ground, the line has allowed only seven sacks and 26 quarterback hits, which is equates to hits on 16 percent of dropbacks.

Red zone offense: Buffalo's effectiveness in the red zone hasn't hurt its cause either. Buffalo leads the league in red zone touchdown percentage at more than 75 percent, up more than 25 percent from last year. In fact, the Bills haven't had a trip to the red zone where they haven't scored. Jackson and tight end Scott Chandler lead the team's red zone attack, tied with four touchdowns apiece.

The Worst

Defensive sacks: Despite being ranked second in the league in interceptions, there are issues on the defensive side of the ball that the Bills will assess. Primarily, the D needs to get the quarterback. Buffalo is last in the league in sacks, with only four total in their six games. The Bills finished the 2010 season at the bottom of the league in sacks as well, and coach Chan Gailey has already displayed his frustration with the pass rush.

Defensive yardage: When you can't get to the quarterback, you get passed on, a lot. Buffalo is third worst in the league in passing yards allowed, at nearly 285 per game. The secondary has been most vulnerable on long plays, giving up an array of passing plays of 20-plus yards and allowing quarterbacks to throw for over a 60 percent completion percentage. Teams have realized this weakness and are exploiting it, averaging nearly 40 pass attempts per game against Buffalo.

Special teams: The Bills' special teams unit hasn’t had to make any game-changing plays to win games, and special teams coach Bruce DeHaven is probably pretty OK with that considering its production. Buffalo is second to last in the league in kick return average and fourth worst in punt returns. The Bills haven't gained more than 30 yards in a play in either respect, despite having two versatile, speedy returners in Brad Smith and C.J. Spiller. The two have three career kickoff returns combined and each gained more than 1,000 return yards last year, so it's not like they haven't proved they can do it.

Patriots captain Mayo making progress

The New England Patriots defense has not waned much in his absence, but the return of linebacker Jerod Mayo will be good news for New England.

“Jerod is definitely getting better,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick told the media Monday. “We’ll see where he is when we get out on the field this week. He’s certainly making progress and it will be great to have him back out there whenever that happens.”

Obviously, Belichick isn’t guaranteeing Mayo’s return this weekend, but the head coach/defensive coordinator sure would like to have his three-time captain running the defense and making plays as soon as he’s capable of doing so.

The 2008 Defensive Rookie of the Year has been everything Belichick had hoped for, if not more, since joining the team. He led the team in the tackles that year after being drafted 10th overall out of Tennessee, and led the league in tackles in 2010 with 175 — good for a Pro Bowl nod and All-Pro team selection.

He missed a few games in his sophomore season due to an MCL sprain (in his right knee) suffered in a Week 1 game, but returned sooner than expected, much like he is expected to do this week.

Mayo, who was second on the team in tackles before his injury, was expected to miss four to six weeks after suffering another knee injury (this time to the left knee) vs. the Oakland Raiders in Week 3 of this season, but has only missed two games and a handful of practices thus far. He has practiced with the team since late last week and is hopeful to return Sunday at Pittsburgh when New England takes on the Steelers at 4:15 p.m. at Heinz Field.

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Monday, October 24, 2011

With Bell likely out, Levitre to start at LT

The Buffalo Bills are planning on going without left tackle Demetrius Bell Sunday when they face the Washington Redskins in Toronto. Bell is still nursing a shoulder injury he suffered Week 4.

“It’s going to be close,” Bills coach Chan Gailey told the media Monday. “We’re planning him not (being ready Sunday). If we get him it’s great.”

With Bell’s absence, left guard Andy Levitre is expected to get the nod protecting quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick’s backside. Levitre spent some time at left tackle Week 6 against the New York Giants when Chris Hairston, filling in for Bell, left play due to a high ankle sprain.

Levitre is practicing at left tackle this week.

“He’s doing all right,” Gailey said of Levitre’s transition to the perimeter. “It’s not live obviously, so he’s doing pretty good on the tempo that we’re practicing at. It’s going to be a lot different Sunday.”

Chad Rinehart would start at left guard if Bell can't go.

Buffalo’s offensive line had been shuffled around a few times during training camp. Gailey said that while Levitre still has a little work to do on his technique, the multiple reps at different spots on the line in the presesaon has paid “great dividends now just from a communication standpoint.”

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Patriots RB Faulk eligible to return this week

Running back Kevin Faulk, who is eligible to return to the New England Patriots’ active roster this week after spending nearly 13 months on the physically unable to perform list, will return to practice Tuesday.

The 13-year veteran suffered an ACL injury against the New York Jets early last season. If he doesn’t make the 53-man roster within three weeks, he’ll be forced to miss the rest of the season.

“…obviously Kevin, over the years, has been a huge part of this organization and obviously this offense,” Patriots offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien told the media Monday. “We'll go out to practice here starting tomorrow and by the end of the week, make a determination on what the game day roster is.

“Obviously, that's up to Bill [Belichick] and what he decides as far as what we need on game day.”

Faulk, however, has a tough task ahead in winning back a roster spot, as he’ll obviously be behind BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Danny Woodhead on the depth chart, and he will have to prove his veteran presence is important enough to take away playing time from rookies Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen.

“He would just add to what that group already has, in my opinion, meaning his intelligence, his experiences, his knowledge of the system,” O’Brien said. “Obviously those are things that Kevin has added for us over the years in all the different roles that he's played. He would just add to the very talented group of guys and smart group of guys.”

Faulk, who was a second-round draft choice in 1999, is 35 years old.

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Rookie Kerley has big impact on 3rd down

With Plaxico Burress’ three touchdown receptions, Shonn Greene’s breakout rushing game and Mark Sanchez’s highly-productive afternoon Sunday, one important factor in the New York Jets’ offensive performance that shouldn't be overlooked was rookie wideout Jeremy Kerley's impact on third down.

Three of Kerley's four receptions in the Jets’ 27-21 victory over the San Diego Chargers were for first downs. Not only that, but they were on third-down plays.

He made a nice grab on third-and-5 during the Jets’ late first-half hurry-up drive. Even though the Jets didn’t get a quick score before halftime, he showed his reliability, which came in handy later on.

Sanchez connected with Kerley for 10 yards on another third-and-5 in the third quarter, and Kerley picked up the next first down on the same drive, that time on an 8-yard reception on a third-and-7. That drive ended in a Burress score.

The Jets were 8-for-13 on third down.

Kerley, who replaced the traded Derrick Mason two weeks ago, had five total receptions prior to Sunday.

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Sunday, October 23, 2011

Quick take: Bills off bye, on to Redskins

With the Buffalo Bills’ bye week officially over, they’ll be getting to work in preparation for the Washington Redskins, who couldn’t keep up with Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers Sunday in a 33-20 loss.

The Bills should have the advantage this coming Sunday – not only because Buffalo will be at home, where it is 3-0 (well, Toronto is close enough, no?), but because the Bills are a rested team facing a reeling Redskins squad that has lost three of its last four games and was already on its second starting quarterback before it surrendered its winning record.

Buffalo, however, has been dealing with issues of its own, losing two of its last three games after a 3-0 start to the season. The Bills have been decimated with injuries at wide receiver and have been sore on both sides of the line of scrimmage.

The Bills have managed the injury bug well, and we’ll see what kind of adjustments coach Chan Gailey made over the bye week to fill in the gaps.

Washington is one of the best teams in the league at getting to the quarterback, so quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick and the Bills’ offense probably wont venture too far from its quick-strike scheme to counter the pressure.

Bills running back Fred Jackson, who has busted some big runs this year, should have some opportunities to break off 20-plus gains. While the Redskins defense hasn’t been terrible against the run, it has been susceptible to big gains on the ground.

Defensively, while Buffalo has a knack for the interception, it still needs to do a better job getting off the field, as the Bills are near the top of the league in first downs given up per game.

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Tebow keeps Miami's Luck campaign alive

The Miami Dolphins almost screwed up their Suck For Luck campaign.

Fortunately for Miami, the hometown hero would save them.

Former Florida Gator Tim Tebow rallied his Denver Broncos from a 15-point deficit in Miami with two touchdown passes and a two-point conversion in the last 2:44 of play to bring it to overtime. Denver (2-4) went on to win, 18-15, handing the Dolphins their sixth loss of the season and leaving them winless for another week.

Tebow was awful for most of the game, having thrown for only 24 yards through the first half with a fumble. However, he kept plays alive with his feet late in the game and managed to help his team eke out a win, thanks in part to a recovered onside kick by Denver.

Tebow also gained 65 yards on eight carries.

Dolphins quarterback Matt Moore was 22-for-33 for 197 yards and a touchdown. Dan Carpenter was responsible for Miami’s other nine points, going 3-for-3 on field goals.

The loss pits the Dolphins one step closer to getting the No. 1 overall draft pick in 2012, which is projected to be Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck.

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Jets WR Burress grabs 3 TDs vs. Chargers

We were all wondering where Plaxico Burress was this year, but New York Jets coach Rex Ryan and quarterback Mark Sanchez had been insisting that Burress and Sanchez were just a little off and assured that he was due for a big day.

That big day came.

Burress made four catches Sunday against the San Diego Chargers – three for touchdowns. He was the ultimate red zone threat, as all three scores came when the Jets were inside the 5-yard line. The Jets scored 17 unanswered points in the second half and went on to win, 27-21.

Burress’ first touchdown score was a critical one. The Jets were third-and-goal from the 3-yard line and down, 14-3, midway through the first quarter. Burress got a nice release of a little slant route working from the right and cleanly caught a Sanchez pass in the middle of the end zone.

Sanchez found Burress again late in the third quarter, this time on a second-and-goal from the 4-yard line. The third-year quarterback hit his veteran receiver on a quick back-shoulder throw to the left side of the end zone to bring the Jets within four.

Burress’ last grab was on third-and-goal from the 3-yard line midway through the fourth quarter. The Jets went with a spread formation, and Sanchez made a quick strike to Burress, who was lined up in the slot, right off the line of scrimmage. That was the game-winner, as San Diego didn't score again.

The 10th-year wideout hadn’t caught a touchdown since Week 3 and had just two on the year prior to Sunday.

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Saturday, October 22, 2011

Four questions entering Jets vs. Chargers

The New York Jets look for their fourth home victory of the year in as many tries when they host the San Diego Chargers Sunday for a 1 p.m. kickoff.

New York (3-3) defeated the Miami Dolphins, 24-6, on Monday Night Football to get back on the winning track after a three-game skid on the road. San Diego (4-1), on the other hand, is coming off a bye after winning three straight.

Is either team legit?

Whoever wins this game Sunday will be considered “for real”… Maybe. The other, well, they’ll still be questionable. A win is a win in the NFL, but San Diego has defeated teams that combine for a 4-17 record, and the Jets’ victories were over teams with a combined record of 3-13.

We know. You can only play who is on your schedule.

Will the Chargers lean on the run?

The Jets’ pass defense has been really good, Chargers quarterback Phillip Rivers hasn’t been great, and New York’s run defense has been bad. The Jets are giving up 132 yards a game on the ground, and San Diego has been picking up 122.8 rushing yards per game.

Rivers has thrown for a bunch of yards but has more picks than touchdowns. Still, he might have Antonio Gates back at tight end, and it’s almost impossible to ignore the big wideouts in Vincent Jackson and Malcom Floyd. The Chargers should attack the Jets’ weakness, but they know they have better-than-average stuff through the air.

Can Mark Sanchez please anyone?

Sanchez isn’t putting up huge yards but has been steady as of late, as he’s thrown for three touchdowns and no interceptions the last two games. He also took one in on a draw last weekend. Still, many are questioning whether or not the third-year signal caller is truly a good quarterback.

Even though it’s not the Jets’ game, a huge play over the top of the defense for a score could be what it takes to silence the doubters. Maybe we see a few downfield shots.

Will LaDainian Tomlinson see more carries?

Tomlinson, one of the most popular former Chargers in the organization’s history, was named the starting running back Sunday. While it’s obviously a ceremonial thing, the Jets may keep him out there for a few extra snaps if he’s making some good gains.

Running back Shonn Greene has proven in the past that he excels coming in fresh to wear down the opponent and go for the home-run hit after another back has taken more of the early carries.

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Broncos focus on QB, Dolphins focus on RB

The 0-5 Miami Dolphins vs. the 1-4 Denver Broncos isn't much of a hot ticket.

But then there’s the Tim Tebow factor.

Tebow will get his first start of the season for Denver, taking over for the slumping Kyle Orton as the team’s starting signal-caller. Tebow got some late action in the Broncos’ loss to the San Diego Chargers two weeks ago before they had their bye.

Host Miami's latest loss came to the New York Jets Monday.

Do the Broncos open it up for Tebow?

Tebow really is a runner first. He was in college, and he seems to always be looking for a running lane when he can’t hit his first read. He should have some opportunities to move around a little behind the line, as the Dolphins allowed Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez to buy time with his feet and make big plays last week.

Tebow was 4-for-10 passing during his time against the Chargers, tossing a score and running for another one. It would not be a surprise if his final number of rushing attempts Sunday is close to his completion total, though Denver should stress pass if it wants to see what Tebow’s abilities are as a thrower.

Who leads Miami in rushing yards this time?

Dolphins coach Tony Sparano said earlier in the week that he’s starting to see what running back Reggie Bush’s role is with the team.

While Miami was excited to see what Bush could bring this season as a standard back, it’s been rookie Daniel Thomas who has taken the main workload out of the backfield as far as handoffs are concerned. However, Bush gained 71 yards on 10 carries against the Jets last week – outgaining Thomas by more than 20 yards with five fewer carries.

"All of a sudden it’s starting to kind of kick in a little bit and (Bush is) starting to get familiar with what’s going on around him there too," Sparano told the media Thursday.

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Simms: 'Outrage against Jets QB is overdone'


CBS football analyst Phil Simms met with reporter Eric Allen this week for the site’s “Four Quarters” video segment.

Simms has been a Mark Sanchez defender since he joined the NFL as a rookie in 2009. New York hasn’t put up huge numbers on offense this year, and fans and ‘experts’ alike are questioning whether or not Sanchez is holding back the offense.

The former New York Giants signal-caller doesn’t think so. And he can’t understand why anyone does.

“I understand their offense, I understand his job, and I am definitely not one of those that’s going, ‘Oh, it’s the quarterback,’” Simms told Allen. “I think the outrage against Mark Sanchez a little overdone. And the last couple weeks I think he has played really solid, error-free, almost perfect football. But, for some reason, that’s not good enough for most people."

Sanchez has thrown three touchdown passes and no interceptions the last two weeks. He also scored once on the ground.

“When I look at Mark Sanchez, I’m gonna do it again this week and label him for the 10th time for everybody, but nobody listens: He is a very good quick-rhythm thrower. The three-step game. Very good. Why? Because he has a great, not a good, he has a great drop," Simms said. "So that helps him. He has big hands, long arms. That makes him a good over-the-top, short thrower.

“He’s one of the top-5 ball-fakers in the NFL, so that makes him a pretty good play-action quarterback. Throws well on the run and can move in the pocket behind the tackles well enough. To me that’s what he is.”

Simms went on to explain that the Jets’ system doesn’t accommodate big numbers, and it’s not because the personnel isn’t capable, but because New York doesn't constantly play up-tempo.

“It’s the pace of the game that the Jets are built to play,” Simms said. “Its not ‘no-huddle, lets go fast.’ There’s a pace to it, and it serves them well.”

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Converted guard Carey progressing on line

Vernon Carey’s transition from tackle to guard this season hasn’t necessarily been smooth, but Miami Dolphins coach Tony Sparano is certainly pleased with his progression since Week 1.

“Honestly, I would argue Vernon played the best up front the other night (against the New York Jets),” Tony Sparano told the Miami media Thursday. “Really starting to look like a guard in there, he really is. I know there’s some people out there who don’t really believe in that. I’m telling you, you’re making a mistake.”

Carey had played brief stints at guard since being selected by the Dolphins 19th overall in the 2004 draft, though he always ended up back outside. He started 12 games at tackle during his junior year of college at the University of Miami, but he was moved to guard his senior year.

“This guy is going to be a good guard, a really good guard, I think down the road,” Sparano said. “It’s just going to take time. It goes back to that deal there…if he was there in March, how much further ahead we’d be.

"When you’re pulling and something happens fast on the run and you’re not used to that, it takes a little bit of time to see some of that. Is a linebacker coming underneath me or is he coming outside of me. ‘Do I come around this or do I come under it?’… And he’s starting to figure that out a little bit. Playing a lot faster in there right now.”

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Friday, October 21, 2011

McKnight emerges as NFL's top kick returner

New York Jets fans had wondered what second-year running back Joe McKnight’s true role would be in 2011, as he was slated for another third-string gig behind Shonn Greene and LaDainian Tomlinson.

Mike Westhoff had a job for him.

Westhoff, the Jets’ special teams coach, made McKnight his primary kick returner, and McKnight has responded. Though cornerback Antonio Cromartie excelled at the return spot early in the year, McKnight took over the top duties when Cromartie was limited to his defensive role a few weeks ago due to a minor injury.

McKnight is the NFL’s top kick returner through six weeks, having picked up 441 yards on 10 returns for a – yes, easy math – average of 44.1 yards a return.

The USC grad had a 107-yard return for a touchdown Week 4 against the Ravens and has the most kick returns over 40 yards (4).

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Patriots' defense seeing lots of yellow in '11

The New England Patriots’ have the second-most penalized defense in the NFL.

Through six games, New England (5-1) has 50 defensive penalties and has racked up 432 penalty yards on defense. The Detroit Lions lead the NFL in defensive penalties with 60 flags for 445 yards.

The Patriots have also been surprisingly undisciplined on the offensive side of the ball in terms of penalties, having 39 flags (10th most) called against it for 353 yards (7th most).

With New England one of the handful of teams without a bye prior to this week, the Patriots should drop a little in both categories with a Week 7 bye, though the numbers are uncharacteristic for a Bill Belichick-led team.

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Taylor: "If you ever get used to losing or get better with it... you need to get your ass out"

The Miami Dolphins are off to an 0-5 start in their 2011 NFL campaign.

The Dolphins are familiar with having a zero followed by a bigger number in their record, as Miami lost its first 13 games in 2007. Veteran linebacker (then defensive end) Jason Taylor was there then, and he’s there now.

And according to Taylor, there’s no getting used to starting the first chunk of the season winless.

“0-5 is 0-5. If you ever get used to losing and get better with it, then you need to get your ass out and do something else,” Taylor told the Miami media Thursday. “It’s as simple as that.

“0-5 is tough regardless of what you’re doing, whether you’re playing Monopoly, checkers or football.”

Miami most recently lost to the New York Jets Monday and will host the Denver Broncos Sunday.

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Westhoff: Muffed return should've been TD

We saw it on Monday Night Football, but Mike Westhoff reiterated it during his Thursday press conference: The Jets’ special teams coach was furious about New York’s second kickoff reception attempt against the Miami Dolphins.

Early in the game, Miami had just gone up 3-0 and was kicking off to New York’s top-tier return unit. Dolphins kicker Dan Carpenter booted a high ball that was short of the goalline, but the Jets’ two-man wedge of Garrett McIntyre and John Connor didn’t get upfield ahead of the ball, which hit McIntyre’s shin and went live. The Dolphins recovered.

What was most frustrating to Westhoff about the play wasn’t the loss of possession – it was the fact that he had prepared for that exact kick.

The Dolphins had made what Westhoff referred to as a gutsy kickoff to start the game, as they kicked a short one that returner Joe McKnight had to scoop up off a bounce. The next time around, Westhoff had his unit prepared for another short kick. Or so he thought.

“They kicked it right to where I called it. When they kicked off, I though we were gonna run for a touchdown,” Westhoff said. “I said, ‘You can’t kick the ball like that to us.’”

Westhoff coaches his blockers to shoot upfield and attack well ahead of the return when the ball is kicked short. They didn’t do it on that particular play.

“Our two guys just stood there, they froze. I mean, we should’ve just been exploding forward, running forward,” Westhoff said. “Joe would’ve caught the ball on the run. We would’ve had a running head start right at the place where I called the return. They got lucky on that one to be honest with you.

“…To tell you the truth that was a terrible pop-up kick. The first one, I kinda though they had some guts with it. The second one, give me a break, we should’ve killed them.”

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Thursday, October 20, 2011

Bills should get all-purpose Smith involved

In addition to using running back C.J. Spiller as a receiver to help remedy their thinning wideout corps, the Buffalo Bills will probably focus on working in former New York Jets lethal weapon Brad Smith at receiver more often, as well.

Smith, who is listed as a quarterback on the team’s roster but can play virtually any skill position on offense, is a threat whenever on the field, regardless of where he lines up. With the (little bit of) extra time to work him more into the offense throughout the bye week, the Bills should be taking time to do just that.

So far this season, the Bills have ran the ball with Smith 15 times, good for a touchdown and six first downs. He’s also caught two passes, one good for a first down, and returned five kickoffs.

Bills coach Chan Gailey admits they’d like to get Smith more involved, and it’s on the “list of things to do” throughout their game-less Week 7, but it’s not at the top of their list. It should be pretty close, though.

A six-year pro out of Missouri, Smith has always been under-used, but that could also be a reason for his success. Some games, we won’t even see him take the field; other games, he’s the difference maker. The key with keeping Smith as productive as he has been is knowing when and where to use him, without playing him so much that he loses his edge over those unfamiliar with him.

The Jets only got seven touchdowns out of Smith over his five years there, but he was continually the X-factor in multiple ways. It’s not so much quantity as it is quality when it comes to Smith.

As a punt and kick returner, he uses dashing speed and scary acceleration to try and make something happen. He’s had success doing so, yet still, the Jets didn’t always use him as a returner, and the Bills haven’t yet either. Smith did have the most returns (and yardage) of his career last year with New York, though. His 50 kickoff returns were good for well over 1,000 yards and a pair of touchdowns. And, as an indication of what he’s capable of, Smith’s only return touchdown for the Jets in 2009 was a 106-yard kickoff return vs. the Indianapolis Colts.

As a backfield threat — lining up under center at quarterback, as a true running back or in the slot — Smith certainly has plenty to offer, too. With the Jets, that’s where he illustrated the most value. If Gang Green was struggling to move the ball, it’d switch up the offense and bring in Smith for a Wildcat look. Even when it was virtually known by the defense that Smith would be tucking the ball away and running with it, he still found production. And, if the run looked like it wasn’t going to work, well … Smith could just throw the ball. I mean, he is (technically) a QB.

Where the Bills need Smith to be most effective, though, is split out at receiver. Buffalo needs help at that position and Smith has the potential to make a large impact. He already has become a marquee player in the NFL despite his sporadic appearances. And playing quarterback most of his life, he knows routes, knows what an ideal pass is and knows what to look for when evaluating defenses at the line of scrimmage.

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Rivers "hated" not winning title for Tomlinson

The San Diego Chargers never won a championship with LaDainian Tomlinson despite the fact that Tomlinson was arguably the best San Diego Charger ever.

Chargers quarterback Phillip Rivers, who played with Tomlinson for six of the future Hall-of-Fame running back's nine years in San Diego, wishes things could have been a little different.

Tomlinson was acquired by the New York Jets before the 2010 season and will be up against his former team when the Jets host the Chargers Sunday.

“The one thing I’ve always told LT, I hated we didn’t win a championship when he was here because, obviously, what he meant to this organization and the player he was was unmatched,” Rivers told the New York media via conference call Wednesday.

Tomlinson eclipsed 1,100 rushing yards in each of his first eight season with San Diego and caught at least 50 passes per year in that span. His numbers dropped in 2009, but he’s best known for his 2006 campaign that saw him earn 28 rushing touchdowns, 1,815 rushing yards, three receiving touchdowns and 508 receiving yards.

Sunday, the Chargers will also see old teammate Antonio Cromartie, who has mostly thrived at cornerback since joining the Jets in 2010.

“Both guys have been able to reestablish themselves in another spot and they’re doing outstanding,” Chargers coach Norv Turner told the New York media Wednesday.

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Sparano: Moore can improve ball location

Miami Dolphins quarterback Matt Moore made a few bad throws Monday – the two Darrelle Revis interceptions being the obvious ones – though he was victim to some underwhelming reception attempts by wide receiver Brandon Marshall.

Dolphins coach Tony Sparano thinks Moore can improve on his ball location.

“ I think there’s some plays there just from ball location standpoint that if I had to pick one thing that he could do a better job of in this game that would be it,” Sparano told the media Wednesday. “You know, give it to them so they can run with it a little bit.

“That wasn’t terrible in the game that other night. Just that would be the thing I would be critical of.”

Moore finished the game 16-for-34 for 204 yards, two picks and no touchdowns, though he would have had a score and some extra yards had Marshall not run out of bounds on the team’s longest play of the game.

“During the game, the mentally we had last week was you got to move on to the next play, next play, next play, but to be honest with you, I was pumped,” Moore told the media Wednesday when asked about Marshall’s misstep. “What was the gain? So I was excited we got 46 yards on the play and put us in the position we were in.”

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Belichick gives insight on 'advance scouting'

Wednesday, New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick gave a little explanation of advance scouting, which is when teams study and gather information on teams two or more games ahead in the schedule.

While Belichick and his closer assistants are working toward the Week 8 Pittsburgh Steelers game following the bye, his advance scouts will be on to study the New York Giants, who New England faces in Week 9.

“We have people in our organization that work on not this week's opponent but next week's opponent but starting this week so that when we finish with that game, we have a lot of information that's already prepared,” Belichick told the media. “The film is broken down, the reports are written on personnel and tendencies and we have individual reports and films of each individual player, how they play, their strengths, their weaknesses, their tendencies, things like that so that's already there. So we do that on a weekly basis anyway.

“ ... We kind of have that weekly time by certain people in our organization -- they're always a week ahead. And then there are others of us that are focused on the week that we have and really don't get to that next team until we're done with the team we're currently competing against.”

With Week 10 being New York Jets’ week, it wouldn’t be surprising if the Patriots’ advance scouts are putting in some early work to go after the sweep of their division rival.

“Now, will some of those people maybe get a little bit ahead of getting ahead? I'm sure they will,” Belichick said. “But that's kind of how it works. We're on sort of the same routine every week.”

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Bills' Williams out 1, maybe 2 more games

Buffalo Bills coach Chan Gailey was upfront Wednesday about the status of defensive tackle Kyle Williams.

Williams, who was absent in the Bills’ loss to the New York Giants last weekend due to a foot injury, will not play in a week and a half when Buffalo takes the field against the Washington Redskins in Toronto.

In fact, Gailey said Williams could miss two more games. Either way, he won’t be the same even if he does return.

“I don’t know that he’ll be 100 percent for the whole year,” Gailey told the media Wednesday. “ I don’t know that he’ll make that.”

Until this season, Williams had been a consistent cog on the Bills’ defensive line for the last few years and played in the 2011 Pro Bowl as an alternate. He was also a Pro-Bowl alternate the year before but didn't get called up.

Williams had been dealing with the foot issue since training camp, but he irritated it enough in the Bills' victory over the Philadelphia Eagles two weeks ago to the point that it sidelined him.

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Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Sanchez talks adapting to Plax, new wideouts

New York Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez has had to deal with wide receiver changes multiple times a year since his rookie season in 2009.

So when asked why he and first-year Jet Plaxico Burress have had a hard time building chemistry through six weeks, he explained that it’s just a matter of time before the two hit it off on the stat sheet.

“It’s like a different car,” Sanchez told reporters Wednesday when discussing the difficulty of a quarterback's adapting to an unfamiliar receiver. “Same driver, just different car. They have a different feel. They like certain tracks better, they handle a little different. It’s just kind of the way they are.

"Plax is a big dude, big rangy guy. Is he as fast as Tone [Santonio Holmes]? No, but Tone’s the speedster, J.K. [Jeremy Kerley]'s the speedster. Those guys can really blow the top off the defense and take off, where Plax has a different game. They can’t go up and jump with a Sean Smith like Plax can."

Sanchez is confident he’ll get rolling consistently with Burress, and coach Rex Ryan has already said Burress is capable of having a 10-catch game this year.

For the third-year signal-caller, it’s all about getting comfortable.

“You’ve just got to know your target, understand who you’re throwing to and give those guys a chance,” Sanchez said. “It’s something that we’re still working towards. That’s good. It’s not easy. I’m just glad he’s been so open about it and been so positive.”

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Sparano not a "Suck For Luck" supporter

Suck For Luck?

Miami Dolphins coach Tony Sparano isn’t cool with it.

Some, or many, Dolphins fans are now rooting for Miami to lose every remaining game this season to lock up the first-overall pick in 2012 and better the team’s chances of landing Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck, who is touted by analysts as a no-brainer No. 1 overall choice.

With starter Chad Henne done for the year with a shoulder injury and his future with Miami in jeopardy, the Dolphins will probably have to make a move for a new signal-caller this coming offseason.

But Sparano doesn’t appreciate the idea of losing games in order to get him.

“… what bothers me about it most is that we have a lot of players in that locker room, every player in that locker room, every coach upstairs, every Harvey Greene in this building that walk into this building with one agenda and that agenda is to win, period,” Sparano said during his Wednesday press conference.

“So we have no other agenda here. It’s to win and those players go out there every single week and they put themselves at risk. I think that part of it; yeah that angers me a little.”

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Bills' O has options despite thin WR corps

Heading into the bye week after losing two of the last three games, the Buffalo Bills (4-2) have to make some adjustments if they want to keep pace in the AFC East. Getting the offense realigned will be a goal for Buffalo over the next week and a half.

While the Bills have emerged as one of the better passing units in the league, their young receiving corps has fell victim to injury setback after injury setback right from the get-go.

But the Bills do have options to keep the offense going. Cue C.J. Spiller.

The former first-round draft pick (No. 9 overall) out of Clemson was envisioned as the No. 1 running back for the Bills, but after a strong season last year by fellow tailback Fred Jackson, followed by an impressive preseason by Jackson, he was named the starter in favor of Spiller. It doesn’t mean Spiller isn’t good; Jackson is just on fire right now.

Doesn’t mean you can’t use both of them, either.

And Gailey knows that. Last week in the Bills’ close loss to the Giants, Spiller had five catches for 39 yards. There should be more where that came from.

“He did a good job. He did a very good job,” Gailey told the media on Monday. “I can see that being his role here for the short term. Maybe not long term, but for the short term.”

And that’s how it needs to be approached. Gailey has shown willingness to be flexible so far this season.

The Bills have a couple other weapons they’ll certainly play with during the bye-week break, too. See: Brad Smith, Naaman Roosevelt, Scott Chandler, etc.

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Arrington's 4 picks direct result of extra work

As many yards as the New England Patriots’ defense has given up this season, it has been opportunistic and good enough to help win five of six games.

Cornerback Kyle Arrington’s league-leading four interceptions is proof. During his Tuesday press conference, Patriots coach Bill Belichick talked about Arrington’s improvement in playing the ball in the air.

“I think some of the things that we talked about with Kyle at the end of the season after the 2010 season, things that he needed to work on and the areas he could improve,” Belichick said. “One of them -- for any defensive back, they can always improve their ball skills.”

Belichick went on to explain that defensive players “don’t get very many opportunities to handle the ball,” unlike wideouts, who are catching balls all practice long.

“Your opportunities to catch the ball are limited in practice,” he continued. “It's something that you have to do more on your own. [I'm] not saying on your own, but the coach or somebody else has to set up a drill and have balls thrown to you to work on your ball skills, with a JUGS machine or whatever it is.

“That's one of things that we talked to Kyle about last year: for something for him to work on in the offseason was playing the ball, handling the ball more, his overall ball skills.”

Arrington is also tied for fifth in the league in passes defensed.

“He came into camp and even though he wasn't able to practice those first couple of days because of the rule and all, but right from the beginning it was evident that he had worked hard on that,” Belichick said. “His ball skills and judgment on the ball and decision-making on high pointing the ball or reaching for it with two hands, knocking it down with one hand -- all those kind of things that are little things, but they're really not little things, that he had worked on and improved on. They showed up from the beginning of training camp.“

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Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Stats prove Johnson is an every-quarter WR

Stevie Johnson is an every-quarter wide receiver.

Some players thrive out of the gate, and some are better at the end of games. Quarterbacks tend to have their go-to guys depending on situations, and the time-of-game is no exception.

Johnson, however, has no internal clock. He’s pretty much the same all game.

Johnson has four touchdowns this season – one in each quarter. He’s made nine receptions in the first quarter, nine in the second, eight in the third and seven in the fourth.

And while his bigger receptions have come in the first half, a large chunk of his first-down receptions are in the third quarter, where 87.5 percent of his catches are chain-movers.

Still confident in getting groin to 100 percent

Johnson hopes that the bye week will give him a chance to finally get to 100 percent health-wise, as he’s been battling an aggravated groin since Week 1.

“For the most part as health goes I’m 90-percent. I’m good,” Johnson told reporters Monday.

“I think I can get back to 100 percent,” he added. “You just never know with that type of injury. I came back and felt like I was 100 percent and then it came back in Week 1. I guess just to be safe I’ll say 90 percent.”

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Ball protection the latest of Dolphins' issues

We're not talking about jockstraps and cups here.

On top of two interceptions, the Miami Dolphins fumbled five times Monday night against the New York Jets.

Quarterback Matt Moore put the ball on the ground twice in addition to his two picks to Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis. Wide Receiver Davone Bess fumbled once, and running backs Daniel Thomas and Reggie Bush each dropped the ball.

Though Miami only lost one – Bess’ fumble – Dolphins coach Tony Sparano noted ball protection as being one of the main things that bothered him about his team’s performance Monday.

“We all got to take care of the ball. The ball was out five times yesterday,” Sparano said Tuesday when addressing the Miami media. "… The ball was out of our hands five times yesterday and it was thrown in their hands two times yesterday and then we had a couple two or three drops. So now when you add those things up that’s a dozen and those are swings. … That’s not a winning formula and those are things that we got to do a better job of.”

It’s something different for Miami every week. The Dolphins had fumbled the ball only four times in their first four games.

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Mangold's return big as Jets try to rebound

Center Nick Mangold’s return to the New York Jets’ lineup has been big.

In fact, according to quarterback Mark Sanchez, “It’s huge.”

Mangold made his first start since Week 2 a week and a half ago in a loss to the New England Patriots, and Mangold, who is still recovering from a high ankle sprain, started again in the Jets' Monday night victory over the Miami Dolphins.

“That’s a tough guy,” Sanchez told reporters Monday. “He’s working and he’s taking the reps in practice. A lot of guys would just sit out practice and try to make it work Sunday, but he knows how important it is for the timing and stuff.

“… I can’t say enough about him. So I’m just proud of his effort all week. That guy’s in there, that guy’s at the facility — practically sleeps there.”

During his time away from the field, Mangold’s absence was especially felt in the Jets’ embarrassing offensive showing against the Baltimore Ravens Week 4 when Sanchez was strip-sacked twice, both for touchdowns. With Colin Baxter filling in for Mangold, Sanchez was hit on a plethora of dropbacks and looked lost, forcing throws early.

The Jets also averaged only two yards a rush. Sanchez was sacked four times the week before in a loss to the Oakland Raiders.

The offensive line upped its level of play against the Patriots and Dolphins, however, opening up holes for running back Shonn Greene and giving Sanchez and his receivers enough time to see plays fully develop.

The improvement was a direct result of Mangold’s presence, as he plays the role of a second quarterback at the line of scrimmage in reading what’s coming from the defense and communicating it to the rest of the line.

“He’s a calming presence I think, especially at the line of scrimmage,” Sanchez said.

Not to mention, he’s a really, really good blocker. Sanchez added that Mangold is also good for a laugh on the field.

“He’s not a vocal guy, but he keeps things light when we need to,” Sanchez said. “During timeouts and stuff we have a good time. It’s funny, just to look at him and see that beard coming through his facemask and all that.”

With Mangold's impact on the Jets' offense, it's no wonder Sanchez prefers that beard remain on the field.

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Bills seek health, better pass rush via bye

By the Buffalo Bills’ bye week last year, Bills fans were already thinking about which big-name draft pick they would pick up in the offseason.

But at 4-2 this year with its best start since 2008, Buffalo is looking to use its week off for much-needed rest and re-evaluation before it tries to reclaim the lead in the AFC East over the middle and second parts of the season.

“We’ll do some evaluation, some self-scout stuff just to see where we are, what we’ve done well and what we need to improve on,” quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick told the media Monday. “With the mandatory break here from the new CBA, guys will be able to heal up a little bit and have some time to recover.”

One aspect the Bills will surely look to improve is the pass rush. Buffalo is dead last in the league in sacks with only four. The secondary, on the other hand, is leading the league in interceptions. Bills coach Chan Gailey looks to work on technique up front in order to win more one-on-one battles on the line to balance out his defense.

“Is it personnel oriented? Is it scheme oriented? You have to look at it, evaluate it and decide which direction you’re going to go,” Gailey said. “That’s never easy. They’re blocking us rather than us beating them. So we’ve got to get better.”

More than anything, the banged-up Bills could use a week of rest. The Bills' latest loss comes at the tackle position with rookie Chris Hairston, who is out two to four weeks with an ankle injury. That makes two injuries at that position, as Demetrius Bell has missed the past two games with shoulder issues. Wide receiver Donald Jones is expected to miss a few weeks with an ailing ankle as well, and though he's started all six games, Andy Levitre has been struggling with knee problems.

“We’ve got a lot of guys banged and nicked up, so it’s a perfect week for guys to heal up this week and take advantage of this time,” linebacker Nick Barnett told the media Monday. “Hopefully we can come back and get at least half of those guys back and we’ll be in better shape.”

Barnett, along with a bunch of others on the defensive side of the ball, have been dealing with their own injuries. Barnett and fellow linebacker Shawne Merriman have been struggling to stay on the field for weeks, with Merriman missing last week’s game against the Giants after aggravating his Achilles heal. Add in outside linebacker Chris Kelsay and defensive tackle Kyle Williams, who each sat against New York, and Buffalo's break couldn't come at a better time.

“The bye comes at a good time just in terms of trying to get some guys healthy, both offensively and defensively,” Fitzpatrick said. “We’ll see what we have come next week.”

Buffalo will be back in action Week 8 when it takes on the Washington Redskins in the Bills' annual home game in Toronto.